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Morning Worship: God’s desire and intuition is to forgive, Hill says  

by MARY LEE TALBOT on   The Chautauqua Daily

“Please forgive the intrusive nature of this sermon. It is not my right to initiate a visit to the attic of your soul, and even to suggest the climb into the attic is rude,” said the Rev. Robert Allan Hill at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.

His sermon title was “Forgiven” and the Scripture reading was Luke 7:36-50, the woman with the alabaster jar.

Like Virgil with Dante, guiding the poet through the levels of hell, purgatory and heaven, Hill acted as a guide through the attic of the soul.

“The Gospel intrudes on the soul and truth steadily advances on us,” Hill said.

Hill walked the congregation, figuratively, up to the second floor, turned on the hall light and pulled down the chain that opened the porthole to the attic. Most of us, he said, had not been to the attic lately; there were mothballs and the coverlets of personal history.

In one corner was a uniform from World War I, a pair of bobby socks and an “I like Ike” button, three Beatles albums — Greatest Hits, Abbey Road and the White Album — a Jim Croce tape and photographs. Who are those people in those photographs?

“We will leave the wardrobe for another day because only lions and witches come from wardrobes,” Hill said.

Back in the corner is a small, low box tied with baler twine that no one else knows is here, but “you know, remember, understand and care.”

“Regret” is the word written on top of the box, “a short synonym for hell.”

Hill told the congregation to open the box, untie it and let all that was in it fall out. He called it a “gutsy” thing to do. To have regrets is part of being human. Can you live with being human, of being a little lower than the angels?

“I know because I have boxes in my attic and I make this climb seldom,” he said. “I know about ‘if only,’ not just vicariously.”

Hill said that he asked to journey with the congregation to have the opportunity for healing.

“I truly doubt that anything in your box will surprise me; it is your regret, your attic, and it is different from mine,” Hill said.

He called the box a “box of impeachment brought against us,” but the laws of the soul don’t give way to “lawyerly cunning.” Even if we try to believe that we have never said a cruel word or had a myopic judgement, “the box does not lie, nor does the conscience or life.”

Yet there is a word that must be spoken.

“It is a God word, and only God speaks God words,” he said.

If you don’t remove what is festering, it will cripple you, Hill told the congregation.

“ ‘God forgives you’ is the divine promise and intuition,” he said. “Jesus taught us to pray for it. John Wesley asked his pastors, ‘Do you know God to be a pardoning God?’ ”

This is good news in the face of a box of regrets. It is sometimes hard to hear “God forgives you,” but if you know that God is a pardoning God, then God has known you in Jesus Christ.

Hill said there were several verses that the congregation should remember. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” When Peter asked if he should forgive someone seven times, Jesus told him 70 times seven. Paul wrote that Christians should be kind, tender-hearted, forgiving as God in Christ has forgiven them.

The second piece of good news is that other people are more willing to forgive than one might know or expect, Hill said.

“You may have to ask and say ‘I’m sorry,’ ” he said, “but most people, when confronted with a heartfelt apology, will willingly say, ‘Don’t worry, I forgive you.’ ”

But what might hold people back most from accepting forgiveness is the ability to forgive oneself.

“You have to let yourself off the hook; you are not 101 percent perfect,” Hill said. “Theologian Paul Tillich said that you have to ‘accept your own acceptance.’ ”

He asked the congregation to travel light toward a common hope. When in doubt, throw it out. Forgive yourself, take the box of regrets out to the curb and “let the heavenly garbage truck haul it away for good.”

“I forgive you, you forgive me,” Hill said. “As William Blake wrote in his poem ‘Broken Love’: ‘And throughout all Eternity, I forgive you, you forgive me.’

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Humility, Kindness, and Welcome: Hard but Biblical Calling – David Jordan*

Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

There is, in the American character, an exceedingly hopeful and optimistic spirit. I believe righteousness and kindness are embedded in the hopes and dreams of this nation. Though sometimes twisted in irrational ways or hidden behind today’s political climate, we continue to share, as Americans, a desire to welcome the stranger, to see the rejected of other lands as a new and potentially vital part of our own. Yet, because of various pressures and difficulties, that vision — that hopeful trajectory of a positive future — is threatened. In some areas of our country where crime and illegal immigration have appeared to increase in tandem, it is tempting to leap to associative conclusions.

The complicated dynamics of our current time should not be minimized, nor should the legitimate concerns of the many caught up in the maelstrom of confusing policies and inappropriate behaviors on all sides diminish the power and necessity of welcoming the stranger. At the bedrock of our nation’s character (and inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty) are these words from Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

These sentiments correspond well to what Jesus intoned in the face of harsh opposition as he continued to reinforce: “Love the alien as you love yourself; for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

The tendency for many, and the constant temptation for all, is to blame problems on those who are new or different or those we simply don’t understand. Yet, consistently in this country and throughout Christian history, we remember the legacy of the stranger, the heroic actions of the unwanted, the new insights and contributions of the disregarded and even despised.

Let us “pursue righteousness and kindness and find life and honor” and live out biblical wisdom — together — as we seek those new insights so necessary for our spiritual, intellectual and emotional growth. Watch carefully around you today — at the store, in the office, around the neighborhood, on the news — and look for positive signs of compassion, openness, courage and new insights about living together in harmony. And as you do, consider another passage from the Bible:

But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit (Isaiah 66:2).

Just as the Statue of Liberty represents the spirit of human hope and the ideal of this nation and democracy, this verse from Isaiah is a bold reminder of our biblical hope — and spiritual goal. God’s expectation is for our humility to exceed our suspicion. Though tempted to criticize and look down on those not in our circle of friends, the biblical calling is to bless, welcome and empower “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).

Now, let’s look at the full text of Emma Lazarus’ poem. She, by the way, was from a Jewish immigrant family originating from Germany and Portugal. Notice in her sonnet the echo of this biblical theme of humility and welcome while alluding in comparison to the ancient Colossus of Rhodes:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let us together, with genuine humility, ponder what this means. In our churches and places of worship, and in our nation as a whole let us deliberate with mutual respect: How wide is the door? How humble and contrite is our spirit? Consider the role of a Christian regarding the various social issues of our day. The ongoing controversies with immigration, how we respond to refugees, the emotional debates surrounding LGBTQ concerns, relationships with the Muslim community, concerns about the those without homes — these and many other issues remain highly charged within and outside the Christian community. Without a coherent and well-articulated message from active citizens who are also committed Christians, all of us will continue to struggle.

Let’s face it, humility, kindness, righteousness and welcoming the stranger — these are tough in today’s political and social climate. They are also very biblical, and remain as necessary today as they have ever been. Let us work together and rise to the challenge.

Lord, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
— Reinhold Niebuhr

*David Jordan is teaching pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Stir the pot, make trouble, to change what has always been done

Morning Worship:

Jesus said in Luke 12:51: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

“Isn’t that just what you want to hear at Chautauqua?” said the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli. “Jesus isn’t messing around; there is no smooth talk here.”

She was preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.  Her sermon title was “Disturbing the Peace,” and the Scripture readings were Isaiah 30:8-18 and Luke 12:49-56.

“These words sound familiar in a time we find ourselves so divided, with violence, exclusion and rancor in our public discourse and interpersonal relationships,” she said. “The last thing we expect to hear is that Jesus is a proponent of division and fiery destruction.”

For some scholars, the only way out of this dilemma is to say that Jesus did not say these words. But, she said, the problem is that “words like these are found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. So we need to pay attention, to sit with any discomfort and listen.”

As editor of the CEB Women’s Bible, Gaines-Cirelli sat and read through the Gospel of Luke and began to hear its story as a story. There were themes and details that emerged when she read it that way that did not appear when just reading little chunks.

The theme of disruption begins in Luke with the “Magnificat,” Mary’s song of praise to God. She says: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Simeon the prophet greets Mary, telling her that her baby son, “is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.”

“In Chapter 4 of Luke, Jesus is run out of his hometown, and in Chapter 5 the religious rulers began to take issue with what he was saying, and by Chapter 6 they were looking for ways to accuse him and get rid of him,” Gaines-Cirelli said.

How can we call him the Prince of Peace, she asked. How does this vision of conflict, division and opposition fit with a faith of love, reconciliation and peace? Have we gotten it wrong?

“I don’t think we have gotten it wrong because love and peace are at the heart of the good news that Jesus embodies,” she said. “But there is an inherent conflict that following Jesus necessarily entails.”

There are some people who enjoy conflict for the sake of conflict, but most of us avoid conflict.

“The church is good at being conflict-averse, of taking the path of least resistance,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “We don’t take risks for fear of losing people, making them uncomfortable and angry. The church is good at smooth things as in ‘the way we’ve always done it.’ Following Jesus is about disrupting the way we have always done it.”

The lengths to which people and institutions go to keep the peace can be self-destructive. Conflict is painful, emotionally and physically. It means the loss of friends and family and can bring about changes to situations that were life-giving.

“Our tradition says blessed are the peacemakers, but it also says blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” she said. “The truth is that Jesus created conflict, not simply for the sake of conflict, but for righteousness’ sake.”

Jesus came to be the just ruler that Isaiah preached about; he did not come into a peaceful, whole and just world.

“Jesus came to disturb the injustice of an unjust world, to disrupt the things that are not resonant with the Kingdom of God, things like love, respect, compassion and equality for the sake of the other,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “This is not eye for an eye retributive justice, but restorative justice that is gracious but challenging for us.”

She quoted biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, who said, “Justice is to sort out what belongs to whom and to return it to them.” In the kingdom of God, Gaines-Cirelli said, this is good news for those who had what belongs to them taken away.

“If we choose to follow Jesus, we will find ourselves in trouble,” she said. “We don’t go looking for trouble or stir the pot for no good reason. Jesus came to change what is wrong and we get into trouble to make things better. Conflict is the result, but we are stirring the pot to bring about change.”

Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, answered the question of why he was taking nonviolent direct action. He called it creative tension, and it caused a crisis for people so they could no longer ignore the issue of racism.

“This is what we are experiencing all over the country right now,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “People are marching to dramatize that police brutality and racism will no longer be ignored. Pride parades for LGBT justice dramatize that inequality will no longer be ignored. The parades and rallies in Washington, D.C., all disturb the peace for the sake of love and the cause of right.”

She acknowledged that the tension this has caused for people with family and friends might not necessarily be called creative, and she has heard some “pretty wild and painful stories about these relationships.”

When you have, in faith and humility, interpreted the tradition, “you choose where you stand and with whom. You create conflict for what is loving and just,” she said.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is telling his listeners to put energy into discerning what matters and do accordingly.

“When people challenge you, or unfriend you on Facebook, or treat you like you are ridiculous or sinful because of where you stand, remember you are in good company,” she said. “As preacher William Sloane Coffin said, ‘Jesus knew that to love your enemies didn’t mean don’t make any.’ ”

Gaines-Cirelli described herself as a “pleaser.”

“I know what people want and expect, and I provide it,” she said. “That was my role in the family. I am the master of smooth talk, and I have an allergy to anger and rage. None of that prepared me for the work of disturbing the peace for the sake of God’s kingdom.”

What did prepare her was prayer, Scripture, living in God’s presence, and more prayer and more prayer and more prayer.

“I know that I walk humbly with Jesus, that the Spirit has my back and God holds me in love,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “That prepares me for the hard work of disappointing people and losing people from the congregation.”

She was asked to grow the church and found it a temptation to use “smooth talk,” but God prepared her to “do the hard thing, risking losing people I care about and making them angry.”

“I hate it!” she said. “I don’t want to do it!”

No one wants to do it, she said, but no one thinks that the world is as God would have it be. Things need to change and conflict will be required, but the good news is that conflict can make things more gentle so that the world stands with God.

“God will give us the grace to persevere, to stand on the side of justice, to find peace from truth-telling and sacrificial love,” she said. “God will grant us a reality better than the way we have always done it.”

She paused.

“If we are willing,” she said. “If we are willing.”

The Rev. Susan McKee presided. Jim Babcock read the Scripture. Jim is the husband of Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. His great-grandfather and grandfather accompanied former President Ulysses S. Grant on his visit to Chautauqua in 1876, and Jim stands proudly at attention when the Marine Corp Hymn is played at the Fourth of July concert. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir in singing “If Ye Love Me,” by Philip Webley. The Randell-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy and the Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund provide support for this week’s services.

TAGS : GINGER GAINES-CIRELLIMORNING WORSHIPRELI

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Morning Worship: Faith plus God equals a miracle, Canales says

071717_Rev Isaac Canales_mpo_06

Rev. Isaac Canales Delivers His Sermon On “Don’t Forget To Remember” During The Sunday Morning Worship On July 16, 2017 At The Amphitheater. PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“In a crisis of fear, when we face a crossroad, we have to make up our minds to continue in faith, hope and trust in God, or are we going to pay more attention to the circumstances than God,” said the Rev. Isaac J. Canales at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His title was “Don’t Forget to Remember,” and the Scripture reading was Numbers 13:1-16 and 32-33.

“My title is something of a Yogi Berra-ism,” Canales said.

He and his wife bought breakfast sandwiches for their flight here since there would be no mealservice, and “Mexicans and pretzels don’t mix.” As they sat and opened up their sandwiches over Kansas, Canales asked his wife if she brought the insulin. She said she thought he had brought it; it was on her checklist but she forgot to look at the list.

He was accusing her of forgetting to remember. Luckily, it was all right when they arrived and they got the medicine they needed.

God had promised the people of Israel a land flowing with milk and honey — the milk and cheese of goats and the honey and sugar from dates. But fear came upon the people as they waited to go into the promised land.

“Their fear brought a loss of memory of what God had done for them,” he said.

In Numbers, Moses sends spies into the land of Canaan and they come back with a report cautioning against taking over the land. It was a land of giants, they said, that devoured its own people, and the Israelites looked like grasshoppers in comparison.

They forgot that God had brought them out of the land of Egypt, that God opened the Red Sea for them to cross, that God gave them manna and quail in the wilderness, “without a bakery or butcher shop in sight.” God gave them water from a rock, shade by day and fire by night.

“When we face crises, we are tempted to despair, to give up on hope and we turn to the solutions of our own mind and heart and we forget how strong God is,” he said. “We tend to look at the size of the giants rather than God.”

Fear results in a loss of courage and perspective. The spies started to think on their own, instead of thinking with God on their side.

“They made the obstacle bigger than God and gave up on themselves and God,” he said. “Your God is bigger than the problem, bigger than the giants, who just cast long shadows.”

Hope and faith are necessary today, too.

“We can’t give up on God and stop praying for our president,” Canales said. “He needs prayerand God is still in charge. God is never out of control; he is always in control of everything.”

The spies saw a mighty civilization when they were in the Canaanite city of Hebron. Canales said that fear makes us lose focus. Even the names of some of the spies had fear in them. Shammua, who came from the tribe of Reuben, has a name that is translated as “puts the lie to the words of the Holy One.” Nahbi, from the tribe of Naphtali, means “hid from the words of the Holy One.” They believed the lie that they were only grasshoppers to the giants.

“It was the lie of rationalism and lack of hope,” he said. “When we are too rational and exclude the mystical hand of almighty God, when we forget that he brought us through every crisis, we try to solve the problem without faith and trust in God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit.”

We lean on things that are handmade, we trust too much in technology, he said.

“Not by might nor power but by my spirit, says the Lord,” Canales said. “God told Moses at the burning bush to take off his handmade sandals as a sign of trust that he was on holy ground.”

There were two spies whose names point to trust in God, who remembered what God had done. Caleb means dog, a sign of faithfulness, and Joshua means “the Lord is our savior.” They had faith when the others did not.

Nine years ago, Canales was given a 1 percent chance to live by his doctors. They had to remove his colon and large intestine and revive his heart 21 times. They gathered his family and said there was not much hope, except for one radical procedure they could try.

“The emergency room was packed out with people praying for their pastor. My wife said I had a 99 percent chance with God and to do the operation, and here I am,” he said. “I asked the Lord why he has given me my life and he said ‘To encourage people.’ Nothing is impossible with God if we don’t forget to remember. And God can do it again and again and again.”

Caleb and Joshua represent the minority report of faith and hope.

“We are a minority around the world,” Canales said. “But a mustard seed in the hand of God is a miracle. Caleb and Joshua are symbols that in every ‘no’ (in the world) there is a ‘yes’ from God.”

To trust in God is our hope, he said.

“Jesus is the hope for my salvation,” Canales said. “What he has done for others, he can do for you.”

Fear begins with a loss of memory and fear without faith forgets the great covenant God made with Israel to be his people. Fear makes people lose heart so that we see the Canaanites as giants.

But God made grasshoppers and a grasshopper with God is a helicopter, he said.

“When we lose perspective, we are truly alone; we are defeated before the battle starts,” Canales said. “In the face of a crisis, don’t forget to remember what God has done in the past. Faith plus God equals a miracle.”

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin, Jr., director of the Department of Religion, presided. Judith Davidson Moyers, president and CEO of Public Affairs Television Inc. and life partner of Bill Moyers, read the Scripture. The women of the Chautauqua Choir sang “Samba de las Escrituras (A Scriptural Samba),” by Ken Berg. The responsorial Psalm 91, “Be with Me Lord,” was written by Marty Hagen; Peter Steinmetz served as cantor. The offertory anthem was the world premiere of “Chautauqua Anthem” by Paul Moravec. The Motet Choir commissioned the piece in honor of Jared Jacobsen’s more than 20 years of service to Chautauqua Institution. The organ postlude was “God Among Us (La Nativité, IX),” by Olivier Messiaen. Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Chautauqua Choir. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy Fund and the Lois Raynow Department of Religion Fund provide support for this week’s services.

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